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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Going into Medicine

From John's Journal

I hated medical school. Memorize this," "Do it this way," "Don't question why they're sick, just diagnose and learn the right drugs to give." I was depressed most of the time. Depression was the way I had learned to handle anger (I found out later on). I dragged my feet and passively resisted and hurt inside a lot.

When I completed my clinical training and could see patients in the clinic at my own pace, I began to see how their lifestyle had been leading up to this symptom or disease they were now presenting to me to fix. Sometimes it looked like the pattern had been going on at least twenty years before any symptom had shown up. I would think to myself:

Here you are sick and hurting, wanting me to fix you up. That's not the problem - that's just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is in your lifestyle, yet I can't convince you of that, let alone help you change it. I'm depressed by your family (job, social, etc.) situation too. I guess all I can do is write you this prescription for a tranquilizer (or an antihypertensive, pain killer, sedative, or mood elevator). I hate to expose you to all the side effects of these chemicals, just to try to sweep something under the carpet for a while. What you really need to do is some internal vacuum cleaning, but if I sent you to the psychiatrist to help you do it, you'd either be insulted, or s/he would say you're not crazy enough and wouldn't have time to see you. There must be another way. This way simply doesn't work.

So, early in my career I decided to discontinue doing sick care and devote my life to wellness. This decision felt like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I focused fulltime on learning ways to help people see their responsibility for their health and then consciously take that responsibility. I used the psychological training and body therapies I'd been learning, and much more. It was in 1972, during my preventive medicine residency, that I found the 1961 classic High-Level Wellness by Halbert Dunn, MD, for $2 on the clearance table at the Johns Hopkins Medical Bookstore. I thought "wellness" was a silly word that would never catch on, but he put ideas together in a way I'd never seen before.

Most importantly, I continued to use myself as a laboratory, learning how to express anger more effectively, becoming less passive, and practicing dealing with my problems more directly. The sore right foot I developed during my fourth year in medical school was nearly crippling me as I began my residency. It seemed to be my body's way of resisting walking, to avoid stepping into more of this stuff that didn't feel good. It cleared up when I began enjoying my work.

My belief that the only way I could be OK was to follow in my dad's footsteps and become a family physician came to an end. I took on a new area, wellness, and despite my initial pessimism that it would ever become a viable concept, thirty-plus years later it's an everyday word.

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